ITHACA, New York – Our recent experience with COVID-19 and the word “lockdown” once again illustrates the power of language to influence our lives and well-being. The infinite variety of reality, and the finite number of words and phrases we have to describe it, creates an inescapable philosophical challenge to articulating policy. Adding to the challenge is our tendency to regard a person’s usage of certain words as a signal of their political ideology.
In managing the pandemic, much of the policy discussion has coalesced around lockdowns. But reducing the issue to a binary question (Should we lock down or not?), or even a linear one (How much should we lock down?), oversimplifies a complicated problem.